About a third of the population struggles with some form of insomnia. For some, the nightly tossing and turning and morning fatigue create such desperation that they turn to alcohol to try to get a good night’s sleep. You probably already know that you shouldn’t mix alcohol with sleeping pills. But mixing alcohol and melatonin can be dangerous, too.
Because melatonin is a supplement, researchers have not thoroughly researched every possible side effect or interaction. This means it’s important to proceed with caution when mixing melatonin with any other drug.
Article at a Glance
- Melatonin and alcohol are both sedatives. Taking them together increases the risk of accidents and overdose.
- Melatonin is a safer alternative to drinking and sleeping pills for people with mild to moderate sleep issues.
- Melatonin may change the way the body responds to alcohol.
- Researchers have not thoroughly studied interactions between alcohol and melatonin, so we may not yet know all of the risks.
- Melatonin is an endogenous (naturally occurring) chemical in the body that acts as an antioxidant.
Can You Take Melatonin With Alcohol?
No large studies have documented any specific drug interactions between alcohol and melatonin. There is no evidence that melatonin, for example, changes the way the body metabolizes alcohol or increases the risk of alcohol poisoning. So is it safe to take melatonin with alcohol? We don’t need large studies to know that there are some serious risks.
Melatonin and alcohol are both sedatives. This means one may intensify the effects of the other. You may be more likely to have accidents, experience trouble thinking or concentrating, and suffer injuries when using large machinery. Alcohol-related illnesses and injuries claim 95,000 lives each year. Adding melatonin into the mix increases the risk.
Could Melatonin Reduce the Risk of Alcohol-Related Illness and Injury?
While taking melatonin and alcohol together is never safe, it is generally safe for drinkers to take melatonin as long as they take melatonin several hours after drinking. This gives the body time to metabolize the alcohol.
Emerging evidence suggests that melatonin might even reduce the risk of some alcohol-related health issues.
Endogenous melatonin–the type the body naturally produces–is an antioxidant that can help counteract inflammation from chronic alcohol abuse. A 2020 study suggests that exogenous melatonin–the kind in food and supplements–may complement melatonin’s antioxidant properties, potentially mitigating the long-term health effects of heavy drinking. Melatonin may also help counteract the circadian rhythm disruptions alcoholism can cause. The circadian rhythm helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle and daily rhythms.
A 2021 review supports these claims. According to that paper, melatonin supplements may help counteract liver damage and inflammation. Though the research is promising, there is not yet enough data to prove that melatonin treats alcohol-related organ damage. So it’s important to talk to a doctor before using melatonin for any health issue, especially alcoholism.
Alcohol and melatonin together can cause side effects such as:
- Liver toxicity and changes in liver enzymes
- Excessive sleepiness
- Poor coordination that can make driving unsafe
- Loss of consciousness
- Loss of memory or confusion
Interactions and Complications
Researchers have not thoroughly studied how alcohol and melatonin might interact with other drugs. However, it is likely that taking these two substances with any other sedative–such as prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids–can increase the risk of side effects.
Both drugs may also interact with other medications, including:
- Immunosuppressants, including HIV drugs and some drugs people take after organ transplants
- Birth control
- Certain diabetes drugs
- Drugs to prevent blood clots
How Long Should You Wait to Take Melatonin After Drinking Alcohol?
To minimize the risk of using melatonin after drinking, give your body enough time to fully eliminate the alcohol.
You might have heard that it takes about an hour for the body to metabolize each drink. That’s only half the story. It’s true that it takes about an hour per drink for you to no longer feel drunk. But the alcohol remains in your body much longer than that.
The half-life of a chemical is how long it takes the body to metabolize half of it. The half-life of alcohol is about 5 hours. This means, at minimum, you should wait about 5 hours after you no longer feel drunk to take melatonin. But to be as cautious as possible, you may need to wait even longer. It can take up to five half-lives to fully get rid of alcohol. That means waiting about 25 hours between drinking and taking melatonin.
How to Properly Take Melatonin
Most doctors recommend taking 1 to 3 milligrams of melatonin. Like most drugs, it’s safest to start with a low dose, monitor for side effects, and then gradually increase the dosage based on how your body responds.
Take melatonin about 2 hours before bedtime, then adjust based on your body’s response. Some people find they need to take it even earlier, while others find that melatonin makes them sleepy almost immediately. Listen to your body.
Melatonin is safe to take on an as-needed basis, or continuously for a month or two. If your sleep issues continue beyond this point, talk to a doctor before continuing melatonin. It’s still generally safer to use melatonin long-term than sleeping pills. But it’s also important to make sure an underlying health issue isn’t causing your insomnia.
Can Melatonin Cause Side Effects on its Own?
Like any other supplement or medication, melatonin can cause side effects. Side effects are generally less common and less serious than with prescription sleeping medication, but that does not mean melatonin is safe for everyone. Some melatonin side effects include:
- Interactions with other drugs. Melatonin may change the way blood thinners and anti-seizure medications work.
- Very rarely, allergic reactions.
- Uncertain safety profile in pregnant and nursing people. There have not been sufficient, well-controlled trials to assess whether lactating or pregnant people can safely use melatonin.
- Increased sedation in geriatric populations. Melatonin may be harder for seniors to metabolize, causing it to remain in the body longer.
- Side effects in children. Melatonin is generally safe for children, but some children have experienced mild side effects such as headaches, dizziness, or agitation.
Melatonin is a very safe drug, with few side effects. A large number of studies support its use, and you are much less likely to have side effects with melatonin than you are with sleeping pills. All supplements and drugs can have side effects, though, and mixing alcohol with any medication can be dangerous. Alcohol can also increase the risk of chronic sleep problems. For the best night’s sleep, cut back on drinking and try melatonin.